Photos by Ema Peter
For any municipality seeking an architect for a pool, park pavilion, recreation centre or even an outdoor toilet, Bruce Carscadden and his Vancouver-based firm, Carscadden Stokes McDonald Architects, are likely already high up on the list.
The firm wins Lieutenant Governor’s and other awards for these kinds of structures (even the toilet). Developers also regularly seek them out to creatively repurpose old buildings, like the one that houses Vancouver’s Chambar Restaurant, or to figure out a way to make 300-square-foot micro-lofts work for the people who live in them, as Carscadden did at the Downtown Eastside Burns Block—both projects also award winners.
And, on the evidence, there’s another type of client who might consider them: someone contemplating a budget-constrained yet brilliantly transformational renovation of an old house, like the one now enjoyed by Elana Cossever and Ron Segev and their two young boys, Saul and Lennon, in East Vancouver.
No one involved with this project wants anyone to believe that it happened overnight or came easily. By comparison, says Carscadden, recreation complexes costing tens of millions of dollars can be straightforward and painless, because somehow they’re less likely to attract the overweening interest of local planning authorities. On a cheerier note, if not for all the bureaucratic concern, the renovation would probably have taken quite a different form, in which the budget would have stretched a lot further. And, says Cossever, who is a self-confessed Instagram junkie and Dwell magazine type, the creative process was pretty rewarding.
Before its transformation, the house was a standard 1920s one-and-a-half-storey of about 1,400 square feet, plus a dank and dark basement just six feet in height. The renovation involved jacking the house up and filling in the excavation, then building a new ground floor that’s 12 feet tall and at grade, with a small extension at the back to provide a little more living space.
Due to the aforementioned complications, storeys two and three remain works-in-progress, so much of the initial design work went into the main floor. To create an organizing principle, Carscadden borrowed an idea that his firm often employs in its institutional work: that of a “loose fit.” The concept of creating spaces in which furniture and activity can be arranged in many different ways is as old as modernism itself, but it was perhaps most succinctly expressed in the “3 L” principle, dating from the 1970s, which holds that good architecture is defined by “long life, loose fit and low energy,” all of which come into play here.
As would be the case at a swimming pool or landmark restaurant, structural elements such as the floor joists, once concealed in the basement, were exposed rather than hidden, as were additional steel and manufactured-wood beams necessitated by the renovation. A radiant-heated floor of polished concrete satisfies 3 L strictures while fulfilling additional practical considerations in a home occupied by two young boys—and one in which almost the entire back wall disappears. The twin goals of filling the house with natural light and connecting indoors and out were paramount for both client and architect. “All summer long we hardly ever closed those doors,” says Cossever.
Still, disappearing wall systems are expensive, as were luxury details such as the Turkish-sourced tiles chosen for the kitchen, and finding a way to wedge them into the budget sparked some creative solutions elsewhere. For example, the funky/slick lighting bars sprinkled throughout the home were fashioned by the hyper-dedicated contractors, PWS Contracting, out of rough lumber and the most basic of lighting fixtures. Similarly, the contractors sourced an inexpensive supply of tight-grain, old-growth Douglas fir and milled it down for countertops, bathroom sink bases and stairs. Journey up those stairs to floors two and three, and there’s more ingenuity from the designer/contractor/client team: plank flooring in which the “planks” began life as sheets of plywood that were ripped into form.
Maybe it’s more prose than poetry, but Carscadden’s description of the project as “beautiful decisions that fit within the rules” is as apt a description of a successful urban renovation as is likely to be found. Leave it to the client to supply the poetry. “There’s nothing about it that I’d change,” says Cossever. “We got it all.”
Originally published April 2016.
White Cube mosaic tile, Kalebodur, online, usontile.com. Custom keyless lamp fixture, collaboration between homeowner’s and PWS Contracting, Vancouver, pwscontracting.com. Luftig exhaust range, island with custom fir top, Ikea, across the West, ikea.ca. KitchenAid gas cooktop, Trail Appliances, across the West, trailappliances.com. E27 socket lamp, Vancouver Special, Vancouver, vanspecial.com; Kit Interior, Calgary, kitinteriorobjects.com. HK-Living bar stools, online, lefliving.de. Wooden tray, Dream Design, online, siamesedreamdesign.com. Water jug, Alix Rodrigues ceramic bowl, homeowner’s own. Chemex coffeemaker, Old Faithful Shop, Vancouver, oldfaithfulshop.com. Custom cutting board, wall shelves, PWS Contracting, Vancouver, pwscontracting.com. White ceramic containers with scoops, Gourmet Warehouse, Vancouver, gourmetwarehouse.ca. Framed Zoe Pawlak print, online, zoepawlak.com. NOOD dishware, Mexican skull art, homeowner’s own. Briza Solna faucet, Splashes Bath and Kitchen, across the West, splashesonline.com. Boholmen double sink, Ringhult drawers, Ikea, across the West, ikea.ca. Stand mixer, dishwasher, Trail Appliances, across the West, trailappliances.com. Ringhult cabinets, wall oven, Ikea, across the West, ikea.ca. KitchenAid French-door refrigerator, Trail Appliances, across the West, trailappliances.com.
Painted structural steel beams, cedar ceiling paneling, PWS Contracting, Vancouver, pwscontracting.com. Polished concrete floors, cedar ceiling paneling, KT Concrete Works, Vancouver, ktconcreteworks.com. Eames molded plastic armchair, Monk Office Supply, Victoria, monk.ca; Inform Interiors, Vancouver, informinteriors.com. Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chairs, Gabriel Ross, Victoria, grshop.com; Rove Concepts, Vancouver, roveconcepts.com. Vintage dining table, vintage Wurlitzer keyboard, homeowner’s own. Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace paint, Pacific Paint and Wallpaper, Victoria, benmoorepaints.com; Coast Decorating Centre, Vancouver, coastpaint.com. Blinds, Hunter Douglas, Ruffell and Brown Interiors, Victoria, ruffell-brown.com; Jabot Interiors and Window Coverings, Vancouver, jabotinteriors.com. Custom woven wall hanging, Ana Isabel, Vancouver, anaisabeltextiles.com.
Morsø classic stove, Wilk Stove, Victoria, wilkstove.com; Hearth and Home Fireplace, Calgary, hearthandhomefireplace.com. Area rug, Maiwa Supply, Vancouver, maiwa.com. Woven basket, PS media cabinet, Ikea, across the West, ikea.ca. Wooden tray, Dream Design, Burnaby, siamesedreamdesign.com. Clock, homeowner’s own. Pendleton blankets, Capital Iron, Victoria, capitaliron.net; Much and Little, Vancouver, muchandlittle.com. Palermo Tripolina chair, online, the-citizenry.com. Ferm Living cushion, Vancouver Special, Vancouver, vanspecial.com.
Lower windows, Cascadia Windows and Doors, Langley, cascadiawindows.com. Silver Cloud painted stucco, Cloverdale Paint, across the West, cloverdalepaint.com. Ponderosa stained cedar, CBR Products, Vancouver, cbrproducts.com. Custom recessed lighting, PWS Contracting, Vancouver, pwscontracting.com. Eclipse door, Builders Door and Window, Coquitlam, buildersdoorandwindow.ca. Raised planter, homeowner’s own. Cast in place concrete patio, KT Concrete Works, Vancouver, ktconcreteworks.com. Solaire chairs, Vancouver Special, Vancouver, vanspecial.com.
Vase, vintage phone, pillow, deerskin rug, homeowner’s own. Alex desk, Ikea, across the West, ikea.ca. Hans Wegner Wishbone chair, Gabriel Ross, Victoria, grshop.com; Rove Concepts, Vancouver, roveconcepts.com.
Designer, Aly Velji, Alykhan Velji Design, Vancouver, alyveljidesigns.com.
Footstools, Robert Allen Design, online, robertallendesign.com. Coffee table, CB2, Vancouver, cb2.com. White lamps and horse head statue, HomeSense, across the West, homesense.ca. White and black rug, West Elm, Vancouver and Calgary, westelm.com. Sofa, chairs and brass accent piece, Country Furniture, Vancouver and Calgary, countryfurniture.net. Small white rug, Ikea, across the West, ikea.ca. Red lamp, Louche Milieu, Calgary, louchemilieu.ca. Poufs, Peridot, Vancouver and Calgary, peridot.ca. Cabinets, Bex Vintage, Calgary, bexvintage.ca. Gramophone, Homeowners’ own. Curtains, Maxwell Fabrics, Vancouver, maxwellfabrics.com. Curtains, Alykhan Velji Designs, Calgary, alyveljidesigns.com, fabric by Maxwell Fabrics, Vancouver, maxwellfabrics.com.
Office and hallway
Striped chair and gold lamp, West Elm, Calgary, westelm.com. Gold accent piece, HomeSense, across the West, homesense.ca. Artwork, Thedor, Calgary, thedor.ca. Frame, Impact Framing, Calgary, impactpictureframing.com. Rug, Dasan Interiors, Calgary, dasaninteriors.com. Artwork, Louche Milieu, Calgary, louchemilieu.ca. Triangle stools and white desk, Country Furniture, Calgary, countryfurniture.net. Vases, HomeSense, across the West, homesense.ca. Rug, Dasan Interiors, Calgary, dasaninteriors.com. Wood flooring, Maguire’s Flooring, Calgary, maguiresflooring.com.
Dining chairs, Country Furniture, Calgary, countryfurniture.net. Dining table, Style in Form, Burnaby, styleinform.com. George Nelson chandelier, Ylighting, online, ylighting.com. White poufs, HomeSense, across the West, homesense.ca.
Barstools, Country Furniture, Vancouver and Calgary, countryfurniture.net.
Rug, House of Persian Rugs, Calgary, hprgallery.com. Lamps, HomeSense, across the West, homesense.ca. Vase, Louche Milieu, Calgary, louchemilieu.ca. Bedside tables, CB2, Vancouver, cb2.com. Throw pillows, Alykhan Velji Designs, Calgary, alyveljidesigns.com.
Light fixtures, West Elm, Vancouver and Calgary, westelm.com. Tiling, Ames, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, amestile.com. Countertops, Caesarstone, across the West, caesarstone.ca. Drawer handles, Banbury Lane, Calgary, banburylane.com. Black frame, HomeSense, across the West, homesense.ca. Shower head, Hansgrohe, across the West, hansgrohe-usa.com.